Phillies

It's a new season and a new perspective for Phillies announcer Larry Andersen

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Photo: Miles Kennedy

It's a new season and a new perspective for Phillies announcer Larry Andersen

It's a half-hour before game time on a Sunday afternoon in Bradenton, Florida. Larry Andersen has just finished going through piles of notes — "big-league prep," he likes to call it — as he gets set to join his friend and partner, Scott Franzke, on his last radio broadcast of spring training. The weather is gorgeous and Andersen steps out of the press box to soak up a little sun. He wants to do more of that this season because he loves the game, the Phillies, the city and, most of all, the fans. The most difficult winter of his life is over. He enters Thursday's season opener — his 22nd as part of the Phillies broadcast team — with a new, brighter perspective on everything.

"But don't you worry," Andersen says as he begins to tell his story. "I'm still going to get on umpires."

While most of us spent the winter with a raging case of Harper-mania, Andersen was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. The doctors didn't like what they were seeing in October. The diagnosis confirmed an aggressive form of cancer in November. He had surgery in December and passed the three-month mark during spring training.

"They tell me I'm cancer-free now," he says, a look of relief sweeping over his face.

He talks of all the people who helped him get through the ordeal, people like Vince Nauss and Jeff Boettcher, his friends from Baseball Chapel, he talks about becoming a Christian in 1980 and how his faith has grown since then, how it carried him through the winter. He talks about the love and support of his wife, Kristi, and his baseball and broadcasting friends, like Franzke. He talks about his children, Angie, Tania and Chase, all adults spread out around the country.

"The hardest thing for me was not having them hear my voice crack when I told them," he says.

Larry Andersen first encountered mortality on March 10, 1967. He still remembers his sister, Linda, coming into his bedroom and saying, "Dad's been in an accident." Dale Andersen was a pilot for a small, West Coast commuter airline. His plane crashed shortly after takeoff in a blinding snowstorm. He was just 38. Larry was just 13 when he lost his best pal and backyard bullpen catcher.

Larry went on to become a seventh-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians and pitched 17 seasons in the majors, six with the Phillies. He was a member of two Phillies World Series teams and has gained huge post-playing career popularity for his work in the broadcast booth and his familial connection with fans. He loves to share a laugh with them, maybe even a cold one if you catch him around town. And he loves to share his honest opinions about the game to which he has dedicated his life with them.

"No one has ever wanted this team to win more than me, maybe as much, but never more," Andersen says. "The reason I want this team to win so badly is because of the fans and I've said that forever. Some people might say you're pandering to the fans. I'm not. These fans have been so good to me. I can't put into words what the fans have shown me over the last 25 years in Philly."

Andersen is still standing high above home plate, soaking up the sun, watching Phillies players stretch on the field down below.

He says fans approach him often and thank him for "keeping it real," as the saying goes.

He shrugs pensively and offers that maybe there are times when he keeps it a little too real for some people's liking. He wouldn't say who those folks are.

"I would hope people can separate negativity from honesty," he says.

The game is changing. All sports are changing. Science and analytics and big data have taken their place at the table next to human experience and instinct. In some cases, the former has elbowed the latter from the table and maybe out of the game. Where once old-school baseball men would predict a pitcher like Nick Pivetta is ready for a breakout season because he now has experience to go with a great arm and talent, new-school baseball men predict the same thing by using new-age statistics like fielding-independent pitching, or FIP.

Andersen came up in a time when baseball people kept it real. Once upon a time not long ago, a Phillies general manager talked of releasing a player because "he has a hole in his bat." That probably would never happen in today's game, where a premium is kept on keeping the environment ultra-positive. There is really no right or wrong answer in all of this. Times change. Methods change.

A cancer scare at age 65 with a lot of life still to live can make Larry Andersen change.

"This thing has done a lot for my faith," he says. "I look at it and trust this is the Lord's plan. This is another way of saying, 'Get your act together, you're not going to be on this Earth forever.'

"It's also helped me from the perspective of stop worrying about stuff that's out of your control, stuff that's trivial. Don't let stuff bother me so much. I look back to my broadcasting, to last year. I know I was critical of the team. I was critical of a lot of things that I didn't agree with and Scott Franzke, my partner over 10 years, at the end of the season gave me some great advice. He said if you disagree with something, just disagree without anger.

"I'd see our young pitchers be compared to (Justin) Verlander and (Zack) Greinke because of their FIP and I didn't think it was fair to our pitchers or the fans. Those guys are Cy Young winners and our young guys hadn't even won 20 games in their careers because they hadn't been in the big leagues long enough. Those comparisons bothered me so much and I would try to give my side and it would come out with anger because I'm passionate and I care about winning. But with all of this other stuff happening, I was able to look back and say, 'Why? Why am I letting it bother me so much?'"

So, will Phillies fans be getting a watered-down Larry Andersen this season?

Hell no.

"I'll still be critical," he vows. "But I'm not going to be upset.

"I'll always be honest. You can snow people in San Diego, in Seattle, other places. You can't do that in Philly. You just can't BS the fans in Philly. They're too smart.

"When they're sitting at home and want to pick up a shoe and throw it at the TV, I know what they're feeling. I'm a fan, too. I know I work for the organization, but I'm a fan. And that's where I think I have a rapport with them. They feel frustration in my voice when they're frustrated watching.

"The last few years have been frustrating. It's been hard. But I really like this team. I love what they've done in the offseason. I'm ready to turn the corner and I think the fans are, too."

Opening day is Thursday. Regardless of what the weatherman says, there's sun in Larry Andersen's forecast.

"I'm going to look at things with brighter eyes," he said.

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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